“Bacall is notoriously tricky; this will let her know who’s boss,” she said. But I just couldn’t wear fur, worried someone would pelt me with an egg or abuse me as I made my way up Fifth Avenue to our location, a suite at The Carlyle, as insisted on by Bacall.
“She was punctual, striding into the suite with her papillon pooch. As soon as she saw me, she almost bellowed in that unmistakeably deep voice: ‘I want that jacket!’”
She was punctual, striding into the suite with her papillon pooch. As soon as she saw me, she almost bellowed in that unmistakeably deep voice: “I want that jacket!“
And for the next two hours, every time we took a break to powder our noses, or adjust the lighting, she repeated, “I want that jacket!” in a commanding tone that suggested she was used to getting her way and was only half joking.
“Jackie always got given everything,” she said, during one of our breaks. “I never got anything.“
From the way she said it, I wondered if there was animosity between her and Mrs Kennedy-Onassis but dared not ask in case it ruffled her feathers.
She extended the interview by an hour. Afterwards, I said I’d have a word overnight with the designer about the jacket. She gave me her number. “Call me as soon as you hear,” she said.
Traudl was thrilled to hear that her design was such a hit and said “You must leave it with her.” We discussed whether it would be appropriate to name the jacket The Bacall in her honour and use that in publicity.
I called to pass on the good news. “Come to tea tomorrow,” said that unmistakeable low register,
almost a growl.
I turned up at Bacall’s enormous apartment that seemed to run the entire length of the Dakota building facing on to Central Park, where she lived just one floor above or below her one-time, post-Bogart great love, Leonard Bernstein.
The place was so astonishing it was hard not to gawp at her treasures – the walls adorned with Audubon originals (“I adore pelicans”), the collection of tiny gold figurines, “Bogey and I collected those in the Congo on the shoot for The African Queen”) and an adorable self-portrait watercolour by her bestie, Katharine Hepburn.
Over tea, I produced the jacket, telling her that Traudl was delighted to give it to her.
“Oh no, that won’t do,” she said briskly. “It’s too short in the waist, she’ll have to make me another one. You can take my measurements,” she said, going off to find a tape measure.
And so one snowy afternoon, I found myself holding a tape around Lauren Bacall’s bust, waist, hips and along her arms, marvelling at her imperious way of getting what she wanted while at the same time sensing unmistakeable loneliness behind that fierce exterior.
Her children all lived far away, she said, and it was hard to get a date these days… When I left, she said, “You will call, next time you are in New York, won’t you?” I wanted to, but never felt brave enough. I still have the jacket and think of her every time I wear it.